BY: MELISSA GROELING
Even when the lights are out, he can still see you…
Paul Holten’s profession doesn’t leave much room for doubt or con-science, but he’s reaching his breaking point. The nightmares are getting worse, the jobs are getting harder to finish, and the volatile relationship with his boss Aaron is falling apart. Now faced with the possibility of an impending death sentence, Paul makes the fatal decision to run. Drawn into one hellish situation after another, he’s forced to confront his dark past—and wonders if perhaps dying isn’t the better option.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Lights Out by Melissa Groeling is not for everyone, certainly not for the faint of heart. While it is a well-written and fascinating story, its subject matter is rather uncomfortable. The story revolves around Paul Holten, a professional assassin, who while growing up had been abused and forced to be a child prostitute. The story reaches a critical turning point when Paul rescues Ethan, a ten-year-old boy who reminds Paul too much of himself at that age. Determined to save the boy from the perverts who are abusing him, Paul takes Ethan and goes on the run, fleeing from assassins, his employers, and a mysterious Aztec shaman, all determined to kill him and Ethan both.
Lights Out is a gritty, almost too honest story about the baser side of human nature and child abuse. The characters are extremely well-developed, three-dimensional, and are eerily real. As uncomfortable as the subject matter is, I found the book riveting and very hard to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Wow! Lights Out by Melissa Groeling was certainly unexpected. As Groeling’s debut effort was a YA novel, I was totally unprepared for this one. Lights Out is a hard-hitting, brutally honest book about pedophiles and child abuse, and the lasting effect this has on victims’ lives. The main character, Paul, is not a likeable man. He is a professional assassin, cold, hard, unemotional, and apparently without much, if any, conscience. But there is a vulnerability about him that really pulls you in. And while he is not the type of man in whom you would expect to find a spark of goodness lurking deep inside, there actually is one and it is forced to the surface when Paul encounters Ethan, a ten-year-old boy growing up with the same kind of abuse and degradation that Paul suffered as a child.
Lights Out is an enjoyable read, at least it was for me, but it is not exactly a comfortable one. The plot is strong, well-thought-out, unpredictable, and totally authentic. The story is gripping, and although its shines a spotlight on the depravity that humans are capable of, it also showcases the nobility that they can sometimes display. While I don’t know that it is a book that I would read more than once, I am very glad that I read it the first time.
The barista hated coffee. He loathed the taste of it, the smell of it, and the sound of it–and yes, it did have a peculiar sound as it was slurped, poured, stirred, sweetened, and gulped by the gallon. He hated the bubbling, the churning, the nails-on-metal sound of beans being ground up. He especially hated the fancy names that he always tripped over while a fifteen-year-old punk with sleepy eyes, pimples, and a skateboard tucked under one arm could spout out a double-shot of espresso in a grande vanilla, no-foam macchiato, without missing a beat.
As the barista adjusted his apron strings, he earned another dirty look from John the Manager, whose shirt collar was soaked with sweat as the line of people at the counter doubled to four-deep.
Hell is coffee and I am in it, the barista thought as he turned to the huge metal sink to rinse out blenders, cups, spoons, and parts of something called an espresso machine that had gone belly-up about ten minutes ago.
A string of loud, colorful curses erupted from one of the tables. The barista looked over the counter to see the target muttering and swearing while wiping at the growing stain of spilled coffee down the front of his expensive suit. The barista froze in irritation, taking in the overturned cup and watching a stream of pale brown liquid trickle off the edge of the table.
The barista turned away, his hands clenching. His mind had begun to race with back-up scenarios when John the Manager’s tomato-red face was suddenly inches from his own.
“Get him another coffee, black, no sugar. Can you handle that?”
Without a word, the barista’s hands unclenched. His thoughts slowed and he carefully, methodically prepared the drink. He cast a nonchalant glance over the top of the now-defunct espresso machine and watched the target for a moment. A laptop was open on the table in front of him. Sunglasses were perched on top of spiky blonde hair that looked stiff enough to withstand a Kansas tornado. His eyes were as cold and clear as the weather outside, glaring up at the barista as he came over with the fresh cup of coffee.
“Here you are,” the barista said with a friendly smile as he held it out to him.
The target threw a disdainful look at the offending coffee. “I wanted a latte.”
“Espresso machine’s down.”
The target gave a grunt and grabbed the cup hard enough to send some coffee sloshing over the rim.
“Oops,” the man sneered.
The barista calmly wiped his hand on his apron, watching for a moment as the poison was sipped. Satisfied, he turned and walked away. He took off his apron as he rounded the counter. John the Manager was at his side.
“What in the hell do you think–”
The barista tossed the apron at him. “Fuck you. I quit.”
There was a moment of shocked silence then laughter and applause from his co-workers. He went for the door, where he paused for a moment.
The poison was fast-acting, tasteless, and would leave no footprint after death. He didn’t have to wait long.
There was the shrill scrape of a chair sliding across the tiles, followed by a terrible gagging sound.
The barista swung the door open and went out into the cold sunlight, with the sound of a body hitting the floor trailing closely behind.
© 2013 Melissa Groeling